Shipwrecks are sites where a ship, boat, or other vessel has been sunk or run aground. Fictional shipwrecks are areas to explore, stories to tell, and/or a chance to recover valuable items. If enough ships have sunk in a single area, that area may be a ship graveyard. Shipwrecks are often found on the bottom of an ocean or sea, locked in the frozen arctic, or on an island, reef, or coast. They may contain useful cargo or treasure. There may be treasure maps or clues that lead to shipwrecks and they may be involved in folklore or legend told in seaside taverns. Shipwrecks may be home to survivors, mad pirates, skeletal remains, and leviathans.
Designing Fictional Shipwrecks
While shipwrecks are generally found on or near the ocean, shipwrecks in unusual places (deserts, jungles, mountaintops) can act as narratively interesting elements. If the crew survived the wreck, they may have tried to hide the ship within sea caves, lagoons, or up uncharted rivers. Unusually strong storms may have caused wrecks to lay farther ashore than could be possibly predicted. Consider both the region as well as the local terrain.
The structure of the wreck itself will depend on the type of ship or vessel it was. Sunken galleons will possess different layouts than sunken submarines. Consider cargo holds, smuggler’s holds, moon pools, and captains’ quarters. If the wreck is only partially submerged, there may be flooded rooms. If the wreck is entirely submerged, there may be pockets of air still trapped within it. If the event that caused the wreck was catastrophic, the vessel may have shattered into parts.
Colder water tends to preserve wrecks better than warmer waters.
The loss or recovery of cargo from a sunken ship is a common element in fictional narratives. This may be sunken treasure, treasure maps, powerful weapons, magical artifacts, old chests, important notes, or religious relics. If the ship was sailing a trade route it may have been carrying trade goods. Cargo could also provide useful materials and helpful items for any survivors stranded on a deserted island – as long as they can get to the wreck.
Name & History
Every ship, of course, needs a name. It may also be prudent to develop a history of the ship or vessel. This may have been a ship, a captain, or a voyage that was historically noteworthy or even legendary.